The Middle East Cauldron

Between Wars & Conflicts

The Middle East is a widely conversed terminology but it concurrently holds a unique sense; in that it doesn’t conform to any known cardinal directions. So how this term got fame for itself? Interesting and complex as it appears, it also indicates to an equally intricate and intertwined geopolitical reality of this region. Geographically, it forms the area between Arabian Peninsula and Iran. The words ‘Middle East’ was first coined by American Naval strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan in early 20th century and since then the term has gained wide currency world over. A read out of the Middle East countries is enough to let the mind racing of any eagle eyed geo-strategists. Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, Yemen, Syria all torn between wars; while Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey, Qatar and UAE are vying for regional influence through active conflicts. Whereas, minions like Kuwait, Jordan, Oman, Bahrain and Cyprus siding with one or the multiple parties of the conflict. Middle East has everything including all undesirables – red hot borders, civil war, relic of Holocaust, terrorism, WMDs, energy, kingdoms and democracies; just unbelievable! Not to discount, it also is the birth place for World’s major religions – Christianity and Islam. Large migratory population has further added a complex factor of diverse ethnicity, making this region an extremely complicated place on Earth. 

Israel Iran Bonhomie in 70s

The Turm-Oil

The Middle East is largely identified for it’s unique Arab culture, huge energy reserves, wealthy society and Islam. What misses the attention is the extreme turmoil that it has been pushed to weather out. While rest of the world moved away from wars and set on to agenda of development by late 90s, Middle East went onto reverse gear. When Europe and Asia were undergoing rapid development, Middle East was entering an era of conflicts and threats to existence of states. Mutual distrust was ripe and this made them look for friends of convenience. Many jumped in especially Europe, their imperial hunger was once again tickled as the countries after countries in Middle East openly took a path of confrontation with their neighbours. The Israeli independence, Arab invasion, Iranian revolution in 1978-79 turned Middle East diplomatic relations upside down. Not many know that it was Israel which initially offered Nuclear technology to Iran during the time of Shah Mohammad, then ruler of Iran. But it was then, post Iranian revolution and arrival of radical Islamist government of Ayatollah Khomeini Israel and Iran took opposite pole. Even terming them adversaries would be a criminal understatement. The region remained engulfed in a string of crises – Iran-Iraq war, invasion of Kuwait, Gulf wars, Yemen crisis, Syrian civil war; Middle East had No time to reflect upon what is going wrong. It also infamously gets the credit as originator of, first of a kind, Non-State actors like Hezbollah, Hamas, Al Qaeda and ISIS having serious capacity to challenge the states and territory to rule something completely unheard of till then.

Devastation in Syria

An Irreversible Interference

Each of the missteps that Middle East took only further aided interference by external powers, regional and global alike. Middle East swiftly turned into a desirable client for everyone; barter was security for energy. The deal suited most to West as their industries were energy deficient and weapon surplus. But it was a business deal afterall, devoid of heart and soul before the Middle East countries could understand the nuances, the land was turned into a battle theatre and testing ground for big defence industries. The escalation control was lost by the original protagonists in front of major military powers. While the shots were being called from Pentagon and NATO HQ, devastation was suffered in the Middle East. It caused an irreversible psychological damage for generations over issues which could have been allowed a more robust and mature diplomatic solutions. Images of the war torn areas is a sad reflection of millions been condemned to deprivation and survival in most inhuman conditions for years. The Western hunger for oil was so intense that nobody bothered these war and conflicts will eventually destroy the entire landmass of it’s sense of existence. The height of hypocrisy was when Americans landed all guns blazing to wipe out WMDs from Iraq. An accusation which never held water, was allowed to cause rampaging destruction designed not to meet war objectives of coalition forces but to showcase the American military might to millions experiencing a Live war on their TV screens for the first time. For Europe and Americas securing the oil flow became single biggest priority and they did it at the cost of almost everything. They conveniently kept their eyes closed to whatever dictators wanted and Kingdoms practiced. Howsoever, contrarian it may have been to their own societal beliefs. Africa didn’t figured much apart from sharing Northern territories and also due to limited trade opportunities that existed. For Asia though, Middle East mattered further, apart from territory it also shared history, civilization and trade links. For India, it was much more and beyond; not only by history, civilization and trade but India was also deeply connected with culture, huge diaspora and as a country with home to world’s third largest Muslim population and largest in a non-Islamic country. It’s an extraordinarily unique relationship making Middle East and India a shared stakeholder in their present and future like No other.

A Shared Future

This shared heritage and linked future of Middle East and India started getting recognition and desired focus rather late. It infact got propelled due to some changing geostrategic realities and plain economics. A strange fact shows that any challenging development that takes place in the region has a direct mutual affect on India and Middle East.  Whether it’s war, civil disturbances, oil prices or even upheaval in India’s internal politics. A broader situational assessment leads to some hard facts Western interference in Middle East is way beyond their actual stake. – Insensitive Western interference ultimately has a cost for India too. – Existing model of Middle East fossil based economy is unsustainable. – India would be most natural partner in development of Middle East. Shreds of these assessment are becoming overwhelmingly apparent. Saudi Arabia is turning it’s economy away from oil in it’s Vision 2030 – it wants tourism, non-oil economy and ease of doing business to form bedrock of changed economics for Kingdom. Their hi-tech concepts like NEOM and TROJENA maybe decades away but showcases the countries trajectory it wants to follow. UAE has shifted to diversification, Israel and Middle East countries have realised the importance of regional economic integration and has forged multiple preferential trade deals while keeping decade old mutual disagreements aside. Qatar wants economy with options beyond oil and showcase the world it’s potential for a diversified economic partnership. It’s hosting of the FIFA’s marquee event is seen in that context. India has gained it’s share of wisdom it has always been present, but it now wants to be seen also in calculus of Middle East. More than two third of India’s oil needs are being met by Middle East and annual remittances have risen from USD 16.9 billion to USD 89 billion in last two decades. India’s Link West Policy has given momentum to bilateral relations while more needs to be done. Joint investments of USD 44 billion by Saudi Arabia’s Aramco and Abudhabi’s National Oil Company in Indian refinery, decision to invite UAE’s crown prince to be India’s Republic Day’s Chief Guest in 2017, honouring Indian PM with most prestigious of national awards by many Middle East countries were seen as ground work for bigger things to follow. India has turned around to be a major economic partner of Middle East and likely gets a front row seat and direct access to decision makers. India is not only seen as a stabilising major power but it’s policy of non interference and deep understanding of regional sensitivities are magnetic for Middle East nations who are tired of being used as shadow boxing arena. These churning developments are being regarded as a watershed moment in Middle East history. Progressive impact has slowly started emerging and India is bullish on building a new narrative. Almost all Middle East countries have forged long term economic pact with India, in a fresh new start India is boldly engaging with highest leadership in the region. Almost collectively Middle East countries which form major chunk of Arab League and OIC have effectively dumped Kashmir rhetoric. Absence of senior leadership from OIC meet in Islamabad in March 2022 and their concurrent presence in Delhi, reflects towards attitudinal shift. It has earned India a silent approval from majority of Muslim world for it’s Kashmir policies. What’s more, welcome investments from UAE in Kashmir has given India an elbow room. India will do well to sustain this thrust, as loss or gain either will have a profound impact on it’s own future!

-Ravi Srivastava

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